UofL researchers to tackle 'real-time' pandemic response
When a pandemic attack or natural disaster happens, some chaos seems inevitable.
No matter how well a community has planned its response, circumstances are changing constantly - and so should the response plan during and after an attack.
The University of Louisville is leading a federally funded effort to develop computer software that would allow health and emergency professionals to allocate and reallocate their resources - people and equipment - in response to the shifting conditions that would follow an attack.
UofL President James Ramsey and other officials announced March 16 that U.S. Department of Homeland Security funding, through the Somerset, Ky.-based National Institute for Hometown Security, would be used for the three-year project. The initial 18-month installment of the expected $3.3 million funding is $1.7 million, which U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers secured.
Ramsey praised Rogers' efforts and described the institute as "an organization we value greatly."
"UofL will have a major role in impacting homeland security on a national level," said Sam Varnado, chief technical officer for the National Institute for Hometown Security.
Varnado said his institute focuses on community needs related to a major event, whether it be sickness, natural disaster or a terrorist attack, and works with universities to put together a team to meet those needs. Then technology developed to meet a community's needs can be applied to national problems, he said.
The UofL research group, headed by industrial engineering professor Sunderesh Heragu, includes several professors from the J.B. Speed School of Engineering and the School of Public Health and Information Sciences. Heragu, the Mary Lee and George F. Duthie chair in engineering logistics and the director of the Logistics and Distribution Institute at UofL, said Murray State University and St. Louis University also are participating.
The group will work on a "real-time" decision-support system that could provide medical care where needed even when responders and health providers themselves are affected by a pandemic or flu outbreak. Heragu said some studies show up to 40 percent of the population could be stricken, and that could affect staffing by doctors, emergency responders, nurses and support service providers during the "medical surge" that could result.
The researchers also will factor in the medical logistics of getting supplies, hospital beds and caregivers where they are most needed. Other priorities will be meeting the mental health needs of health care and emergency workers strained by a disaster; securing medical information in such a public health situation; and protecting health care workers with necessary personal equipment.
"Lots of things have to be decided on the fly when things are constantly changing," Heragu said. "It's not a trivial problem by any means."
Heragu and a student also used a computer simulation model on a public health issue last fall when they presented information to police and emergency medical officials working on the large-scale, two-day effort to deliver thousands of doses of H1N1 vaccine to motorists at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. They collected data during the clinic to refine the model for future use.